Just like happiness, sadness, and anger, loneliness is one of the most universal emotions of the human condition. It’s something all people from all cultures and all walks of life experience from time to time (Gierveld & Van Tilburg, 2010).
We feel lonely when our loved ones start to drift away from us or make us feel like we’re not wanted. We feel lonely when we don’t have any friends or someone special to spend our day with, or when the people we care about don’t seem to feel the same way. No matter how old you are or where you’re from, we all know what it feels like to be lonely.
Fortunately, loneliness doesn’t stay with us for long. It’s something we can easily cope with by making new friends, reaching out to our loved ones, helping someone in need, and doing the things that make us happy. But if you struggle with intense and recurring feelings of loneliness, it might be a sign of a much more serious underlying mental health problem.
So if you’ve been feeling lonely more often than not lately and don’t know why, here are 9 possible reasons why:
1. You don’t know how to connect with people
You crave closeness but you don’t know how to connect with people in a deep and meaningful way. And having a lack of close personal relationships in your life has been shown to be the number one reason why a lot of us feel so lonely all the time (Dykstra, 2006; Ernst & Cacioppo, 1999). You’re friendly with a lot of people and you talk to them on a regular basis, but your relationship isn’t founded on anything substantial. You feel lonely because having someone to make small talk to about the news or the weather isn’t enough to give you the emotional fulfillment you need.
2. You’re afraid of intimacy
Another reason why you might be feeling so lonely all the time isn’t because you don’t know how to be emotionally vulnerable with someone, but because you don’t want to. People who are afraid of intimacy keep those around them at an emotional distance. They don’t want to get too attached to anyone so they keep their guard up at all times (Firestone & Catlett, 2009). And while this does protect them from rejection, abandonment, and heartbreak, it also holds them back from emotional connection, genuine love, and meaningful friendships. Do you think this might be the reason why you feel lonely? Read “7 Signs You’re Afraid of Intimacy” to learn more.
3. You’re going through a lot of change
Have you moved to a new school or a new city lately? Are you graduating high school or college soon? Do you feel uncertain about what the future might bring and where it might take you? It’s normal to feel lonely, lost, and confused when you’re going through a period of change. And as we get older, sometimes we outgrow certain relationships and drift apart from those we were once so close to. Change can be scary but staying stuck in the past will only make you feel more isolated and alone. Because while you’re holding on to something that’s already gone, everyone around you has already moved on.
4. You struggle with codependency
Codependency is what happens when you base your sense of identity and self-worth on someone else (Herrick, 1992). When you’re codependent on someone, you make them the source of all your happiness and put their needs above your own, which isn’t healthy. You prioritize them over yourself and bend over backwards just to help them get whatever they want, and you end up losing yourself in the relationship. To devote yourself so wholly to someone who’s only interested in what you can do for them is a lonely way to live, and it may be the source of all your emotional turmoil.
5. You’ve lost touch with yourself
When you base your sense of self on your relationships with other people, you forget who you are without them. And losing touch with yourself can bring a deep sense of loneliness, because the person you spend the most time with has now become a complete stranger to you. Do you know what it is you want in life? Or what values and principles you want to live by? Or what truly makes you happy? Take the time to introspect and search your heart for answers about who you really are and learn to live life without being defined by those around you.
6. You’re feeling misunderstood
Studies show that feeling misunderstood significantly contributes to a person’s sense of loneliness (Condon, 2008). Because when we struggle to feel like we belong and fit in with everyone else, we can’t help but feel like no one really understands us or knows what we’re going through. Some people just can’t seem to relate to us or see us for who we really are, not even our closest friends and family. We might even feel judged and ostracized by those around us because of all the ways we’re so different from them, which can be one of the loneliest feelings in the world.
7. You’re struggling to feel worthy
Have you experienced a recent heartbreak? Were you ever rejected by someone you loved? Or had an important relationship end? When you struggle with feelings of worthlessness, loneliness often follows. Because it’s hard to move on from that kind of pain, and even harder not to let it define our sense of self-worth. It can make anyone feel small and insignificant, like they could just disappear and no one would even care. And that kind of loneliness is the scariest of all.
8. You’re spending time with the wrong people
Some people feel lonely when they’re alone, but being around the wrong people can make us feel even lonelier. When you’re friends with people you don’t even like or dating someone who’s wrong for you, you feel more drained being with them than being by yourself. You only stay with them because you’re afraid of being alone, but you fail to see that they’re actually the ones making you feel lonely. You need to seek out the relationships you actually want instead of just settling for what’s already there.
9. You have depression
FInally but perhaps most importantly, if you don’t really relate to any of the reasons mentioned so far, if you still struggle with loneliness even with so many meaningful and intimate relationships in your life, it may be because you’re suffering from depression. According to the American Psychological Association (2013), chronic feelings of loneliness are one of the most tell-tale signs of clinical depression. This mental illness makes it difficult for us to feel connected to other people and often leaves us withdrawn, isolated, miserable, and lethargic, with no hope, no happiness, and no motivation to do anything.
Loneliness isn’t a serious psychological condition, but it might be an early warning sign of anxiety, depression, or unhealed trauma. So it’s important that you deal with it instead of denying. Understanding the reason behind your loneliness is an important first step towards overcoming it. So if you’ve been feeling really lonely lately, it’s time to reconnect with your loved ones and yourself. And don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional if you feel your loneliness starting to get out of hand.
- Gierveld, J. D. J., & Van Tilburg, T. (2010). The De Jong Gierveld short scales for emotional and social loneliness: tested on data from 7 countries in the UN generations and gender surveys. European Journal of Aging, 7(2), 121-130.
- Dykstra, P. A. (2006). Loneliness and Social Isolation. Cambridge Handbook of Personal Relationships, 485-500.
- Ernst, J. M., & Cacioppo, J. T. (1999). Lonely hearts: Psychological perspectives on loneliness. Applied and preventive psychology, 8(1), 1-22.
- Firestone, R. W., & Catlett, J. (1999). Fear of intimacy. American Psychological Association.
- Herrick, C. A. (1992, July). Codependency: Characteristics, risks, progression, and strategies for healing. In Nursing forum (Vol. 27, No. 3, pp. 12-19). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
- Condon, B. B. (2008, October). Feeling misunderstood: A concept analysis. In Nursing Forum (Vol. 43, No. 4, pp. 177-190). Malden, USA: Blackwell Publishing Inc.
- American Psychological Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th Edition. Washington, DC; APA Publishing.